How to apologize
Learning how to apologize consciously can be an incredibly fulfilling and eye-opening experience. It can really help you experience more joy and harmonious relationships in life. You can also learn a lot of insightful things about yourself, your relationships, and how to communicate with others. Congratulations on taking this step!
Why learn how to apologize consciously
Apologizing is a key part of living a happy and healthy life with positive and loving relationships. As an act of love, humility, vulnerability, and positive intention, it is truly a wonderful thing to do that can be very helpful and healing for ourselves and others.
That said, consciously apologizing is an art. Hit the nail on the head, and you can dissolve lots of pain, misunderstanding, and conflict in just a few words. However, if you ‘miss the mark’, you can accidentally create an even bigger problem, and get into a fight all over again.
Conflict and misunderstandings can build up over time and affect even the greatest of relationships. Fortunately, however, each of us has the capacity to manage conflict in our relationships, address it, and resolve it by consciously apologizing. Doing so proactively can allow our relationships to flourish and help us enjoy more love, connection, and growth in our lives.
Not all apologies are created equal. The quality of your apology (and relationships) depends upon the things you say, how you say them, and how you mean them. Fortunately, there are guidelines you can follow to help you make your apologies more sincere, effective, and growth producing.
Apologies can be an opportunity for you to get closer with your partner, understand each other more, build (or rebuild) trust, resolve prior patterns of conflict, and cultivate a truly special relationship. Often times, people don’t get these results because they:
- don’t apologize because they:
- don’t know how beneficial apologizing can be
- feel too uncomfortable, vulnerable, or afraid of apologizing
- don’t understand the benefit of bringing up the past to resolve it
- try to get through the apology quickly or ‘get it out of the way’
- unknowingly say things that lead to more misunderstandings
In this post, we’ll discuss how to consciously apologize to someone you love so that you can offer the most effective, constructive, and healing apologies possible. We hope to help you experience resolution of misunderstandings and miscommunications, and build deeper connection with your loved one, friend, or acquaintance.
To accomplish that, we will:
- Offer you things you can say when apologizing.
- Offer you some optimal attitudes and energies to embody when apologizing.
- Discuss some of the common pitfalls of apologizing (things that are typically not useful to say) that can lead to misunderstandings.
Our approach to this article
The goal of this guide is to help you learn to apologize on your own, ‘on the fly’. We hope that you’ll learn the art of the conscious apology and make apologies that are emotionally connected and specific to your situation and partner. As a result, these guidelines have been designed not to ‘give you a fish’, but rather ‘teach you how to fish’. We encourage you to tweak this information to fit your specific situation and partner.
While many of the examples we use are for couples in a relationship, these guidelines can be slightly changed and then used to apologize to family and friends as well. While we use the word ‘partner’ often, you can exchange that with father, daughter, friend, grandmother or any loved one.
We looked at some of the other articles available in search engine results on this subject and found that they were brief. As a result, we decided to dive deep with this article. In addition to learning how to apologize, this article has been written to help you increase your understanding of your relationships. As a result, we go into detail in some sections. We hope you might find some insights in these details that help you in the future. We encourage your comments and questions below the article and would truly love to hear from you.
Realizing that conflict is not a bad thing
Relationships are kind of like being in a rock tumbler. In this metaphor, each one of us is a rock. When we get in the rock tumbler with everyone else, we’re each rough, sharp, and full of edges. As the rock tumbler spins, we bump into each other over and over until we come out perfectly round, smooth, and beautiful.
This is a metaphor for how relationships and conflict help us evolve. Once you begin to see relationship conflict as an opportunity for your personal and spiritual evolution, then you can begin to use it for that.
For example, you can start using relationship conflict as an opportunity to evolve your:
- Level of understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, love, and compassion for yourself and others
- Communication and listening skills
- Level of intentionality in your life, faith in your relationship, and gratitude for every situation
- Capacity to be emotionally independent and at peace within yourself regardless of how others act, feel, or perceive you
- Level of humility, self-awareness, and personal accountability for the ways in which you feel
The pain of relationship conflict motivates us to learn these skills. As we learn these skills, the pain of our relationship reduces, our relationships get better, and we enjoy our lives more. How else could we learn such deep levels of humility, forgiveness, unconditional love, and more without this pressing motivation?
When we start seeing relationship conflict as an opportunity, we can start managing it in an empowered fashion and using it as fuel for growth. However, if we continue to react to conflict as if it’s a bad thing, then we’ll be unable to observe it, learn from it, manage it, and evolve from it. We might then feel stuck in patterns of conflict and unwanted relationship results. That’s why it’s useful not to be afraid of conflict or see it as a bad thing.
Benefits of a conscious apology
It can be tempting to go with the good-old, “I’m sorry, I was wrong”. That said, a conscious apology can be much more powerful in its positive effects on the relationship. Understanding these positive effects can help you understand how to apologize more consciously by giving you ‘stars to follow’ as you apologize. While apologizing, you can use these ‘stars’ as guides by asking yourself, “would saying this help me get closer to these goals?”. If it wouldn’t, then it’s probably best not to say it!
The potential benefits of a conscious apology are that it can help you:
- Help your partner feel heard, understood, and safe in the relationship. This will help them feel safe in the world and happy with you, themselves, and the relationship again. This also helps them feel safe enough to be vulnerable, introspect, and potentially change in positive ways.
- Learn more about yourself by humbly and openly observing your thoughts, emotions, and behavior before, during, and after conflict. This mindfulness allows you to gain self-awareness that you can use to evolve as an individual. When you evolve, your life gets better and better!
- Learn more about your partner by really trying to hear what they’re saying, accepting them, and trying to understand them from a loving perspective. You can use a deeper understanding of your partner to better communicate and relate to them. This allows you to avoid conflict and build a better a relationship.
- Evolve. We can use what we learn about ourselves, our partner, and our relationships as information to evolve ourselves and make our relationships better. We can become more forgiving, understanding, compassionate, self-aware, intentional, loving, accepting, emotionally independent, wise and more. We can even learn to release negative thoughts, emotions, desires, fears, expectations and limiting beliefs we have that limit us and reduce our quality of life and consciousness. In this way, relationships (and conflict) can become a vehicle for our personal growth.
- Forgive and let go of the past. We also call this ‘cleaning the slate’ or ‘cleaning the relationship bucket’. This is the process of resolving misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and judgments you’ve made of each other in the past so that those inaccurate memories don’t continue to cause lingering resentment, negative emotions, judgment, and the same old fights over and over. This is like cleaning your house, or taking out the trash – it’s maintenance. You do it so that you can have a positive foundation for the relationship to move forward and so that you can break out of unwanted patterns. It’s great to do this proactively.
Truly, consciously apologizing can be VERY healing, rewarding, and supportive of our growth and evolution. Each time we apologize, we have the opportunity to reach new levels of forgiveness, understanding, trust, vulnerability, intimacy, connection, teamwork, friendship, and love within ourselves and with another. That’s really special!
Below, we’ll begin by offering the basic ingredients of a conscious apology. Please understand that the order in which we’ve provided the steps below is not set in stone. It’s important that you put them in an order that makes sense for you, your partner, and the situation. For example, if your partner is really angry, it might not be a good idea to go put your hand on their shoulder and tell them you love them until they calm down a bit. You might, for example, try one of the other steps first. Please use your intuition, always!
Sometimes, we may take initiative apologizing even though we still feel personally hurt by what has happened. During these times, we may feel like they could or should apologize to us even though we are apologizing to them. It is indeed excellent to take this leadership in our relationships and consciously choose to apologize first. That said, it’s important that before you attempt to make a conscious apology, that you’ve done your best to forgive, as much as possible, the person you’re apologizing to on your own. If you don’t, then some of your lingering negative perspectives, emotions, and feelings from the prior conflict may surface while you’re apologizing and either limit the effect of the apology or aggravate the issue further.
That’s why it’s really useful to, before apologizing, evaluate how you feel. You can ask yourself, “Am I ready to apologize?” and see how you feel. Of course, you don’t have to (and we don’t recommend) waiting until the ‘perfect’ time (which may never come). We do, however, recommend identifying any parts of you that may still be upset or angry, and then healing and releasing those parts on your own as much as possible. This way, you’ll have forgiven as much as possible before apologizing. This will greatly increase the effect of your apology, the quality of your communication, your wellbeing, and your relationship. We will write a #futurearticle on how to forgive and in it we will include some forgiveness techniques that will help you clear and release any parts of you that may still be angry or upset.
Resonating with the energy of certain attitudes or ‘sage states of being’ can help you intuitively apologize consciously. Before offering you things you can say when apologizing, we wanted to list some of these attitudes or states of being that you can ’embody’, ‘resonate with’, or ‘channel’.
- Unconditional love
- Gentle and nurturing energy
- Intentionality (in regards to the relationship and your life and spiritual goals)
- Faith (in regards to yourself, the relationship, your partner, and in God/source for bringing you this situation for your learning and growth)
Truly, we could put the word ‘unconditional’ in front of all of those. It’s so important to maintain these states of being even when things don’t go as hoped for. In fact, especially when things don’t go ‘as hoped for’. These states of being allow you to navigate most consciously and therefore make the most empowered and optimal choices for yourself. Instead, if we get angry, upset, judgmental, or start blaming, we lose our capacity to think and see clearly and to remain wise and empowered.
It’s okay to get upset
If you do get upset, which is normal and totally understandable, it’s OKAY. Just because you get sad, angry, judgmental, or start blaming, doesn’t mean you have failed in any way. If you can, simply notice those emotions as they begin to bubble up and instead of reacting to them and the situation, just observe them and in that moment consciously choose to respond to the situation instead. If you do this, you’ll find that your choices begin to come from the most conscious aspects of your being, and your life and relationships will become more fulfilling as a result. You can do it!
Things to say and do
Say “I love you” and “I’m sorry”, and be affectionate
Note: Saying I’m sorry doesn’t mean you did something wrong, it just means you’re sorry for whatever emotional pain they’re in.
As long as they’re ready to receive it, beginning with a gentle and sincere ‘I love you and I’m sorry’ is a great start. If you do that with affectionate body language (even if it’s just a caring look in the eyes), then you can be off to an even better start. If you’re able to put a caring touch on the shoulder, hand, or arm, then consider doing that too. If, however, they are too angry and might push you away, then hold off on that. Use your intuition to assess the situation and what the other person will be receptive too.
When telling them “I love you and I’m sorry”, it’s helpful to really mean it and say it with genuine energy and intention. If you just say the words, say them with a negative attitude, a sense of obligation, or if you still feel lingering resentment from the conflict, then it may not have optimal effect.
By starting with a caring, “I love you”, you’re displaying vulnerability, humility, compassion, and affection in the beginning of the apology. This can help your partner better receive everything you’re about to say. This is very important because many miscommunications and misinterpretations can happen while apologizing.
For example, have you ever tried to apologize to someone who then misinterpreted what you were trying to say? Did it make the situation seem even worse than before? Most likely. Therefore, starting your apology in a caring, gentle, and apologetic way can help prevent that from happening by helping the person you’re speaking to shift into a more neutral, open, receptive, softer, and less emotionally triggered or biased state of receptivity.
Pay attention to their ‘state of receptivity’
Someone’s state of receptivity is a measure of how open they are to really trying to hear, understand and accurately and constructively interpret what you’re trying to say. When you’re communicating with someone, it’s useful to be aware of their state of receptivity so you can communicate with them optimally. If they are in a very non-receptive state, it’s probably best to wait or use a softener like, “I love you”, or “I’m sorry”.
Remember that communication is not a perfect process
Just because we say something and it makes sense to us, doesn’t mean it makes sense for the other person. Even if they say it makes sense to them, it doesn’t mean that they understood what we said in the way that we meant it.
Even when people are getting along, communication is an imperfect process that’s full of misinterpretations, projections, and assumptions. In fact, it’s very common for people to get into conflict over very simple miscommunications that seem more complicated and scary than they really are. Apologies are especially delicate. In these situations, people are usually upset, angry, hurt or emotionally triggered in some way. Therefore, making a misinterpretation or miscommunication can be a costly thing leading to a bigger problem. As a result, apologies benefit from a very delicate, sensitive, soft, and caring approach.
Approach them as if they were a puppy (especially the ‘tough’ ones)
Just as you would reach out to a scared child or puppy with care and gentleness, being gentle, caring, and vulnerable is very important when apologizing. It’s likely that whoever you’re apologizing to is upset, feeling emotionally abandoned, and therefore unsafe and threatened in some way (even if they don’t admit it or show it). Therefore, saying I’m sorry on the frontend can help them realize that you’re approaching them as a friend and not an ‘enemy’. It can help them see that you’ve put your weapons down and that you ‘come in peace’ and humility. Additionally, it can help them see that you’re not still holding onto resentment, blame, or anger which will help them feel safer and more secure listening to you, accepting you, forgiving you, and letting go of whatever they’re still holding onto.
Soften their defenses
When you start your apology gently like this, you’re helping the person you’re apologizing to get into a more positive state of receptivity. If you don’t do this, then they might still be angry, upset, in a state of victimhood, judgment, blame, and emotionally affected by the conflict while interpreting your apology. In a negative state of receptivity like this, they may try to ‘shoot down’ the things you say as if your words are like an inbound missile. People do this because they often get defensive when they feel hurt and misinterpret us to be a threat or attacking them. If we start with a vulnerable display of love and apology, then we can soften their defense systems. Ideally, this will help them be less guarded, less ‘on the defense’, and be more open to what you have to say.
Just this little shift can lead to an entirely different result in how they interpret what you say. A different, more constructive interpretation can lead to an entirely different, more constructive outcome in the short, medium, and long term. This is especially true when people are communicating about delicate, sensitive and vulnerable emotional issues. During these situations, people are probably already triggered in some type of fear, pain, or negative emotion. Therefore, these situations, when not gone about with a lot of love, patience, and care, can often have volatile outcomes. Starting your apology in a loving way can not only help you effectively apologize, it can have significant positive ripple effects on the process of communication, the relationship, and its future.
Say, “I really care about you and how you feel, and I would really like to understand more about how you feel if and when you’re ready to express it”.
We’ll call this the “Care Statement” to reference it easily.
The “Care Statement” shows that you really care about how they feel, and that, if and when they’re ready to express themselves, that you want to hear everything they have to say. This is important because, in relationships and especially during and after conflict, people tend to feel:
- Alone and misunderstood
- Like they’re not getting what they need (whether it be attention, affection, care, consideration, time, generosity, appreciation, forgiveness, or something else that they fear not having)
- Like the relationship, the things that have happened, the misunderstandings, and their emotions are too complicated, too difficult to resolve, very painful, and overwhelming.
- Like they don’t have the space to express themselves emotionally in their relationship (something that nearly everyone feels they need).
Telling them that, ‘you care about them and how they feel and would really like to understand more about how they feel when they’re ready to express it’ helps resolve all of the above feelings the person might be feeling. This is how this statement does this. The numbered points below correspond to the numbered points above. It helps them:
- Resolve their feeling of being alone and misunderstood by giving them an opportunity to express themselves so that you can understand. This also gives hope and faith in the relationship and helps them feel more safe and secure.
- Realize that you want to understand whatever they feel they’re missing and give them that because you care.
- Realize that you are on their side and that you are their teammate. This tells them that you are committed to working through it with them. By offering them the opportunity to express themselves, you offer them a process to work through and resolve the complex emotions and issues via communication and self-expression. (By the way, the process of expressing themselves will actually help them begin to unravel what might feel like an impossible knot. Truly, just going through the process of expressing oneself helps take a big weight off of ones shoulders and get a lot off their chest. Simply taking this load off can offer a huge relief to the person. As a result, people tend to feel less overwhelmed, less pain, less feeling lost in the complexity, and more comfortable, safe, secure, and trusting in the relationship once they are given the opportunity to express themselves and they feel heard and accepted.)
- Feel like you are giving them the space to express themselves emotionally in the relationship and that they are really being heard and understood. This is very important for relationships. This means doing your best to be accepting and understanding no matter what they communicate.
Once you create this space for your partner to express themselves, the next step is to hold that space open and really listen without reacting to anything they say as they express themselves…
Give them the space to express what they feel
It’s actually quite rare for people to hold a consistently open, receptive, validating, forgiving, accepting, peaceful, and conscious space for each other to express their emotions. That’s because, when listening to our partner or someone else express themselves emotionally, we tend to get triggered, feel bothered, or overwhelmed by what they say. This can be especially true around topics we feel sensitive about such as money, work, health, parenting, an argument, some vulnerable part of us, etc.
Hearing someone else’s imperfect expression of their imperfect emotional process, perspectives, and feelings (especially when those feelings are about us or they communicate their opinions as if they’re ‘facts’) can be challenging! It can be easy to get triggered into feeling defensive. When someone, while expressing their emotions, sounds like they are unjustly blaming or judging us, not understanding us, and believing in some truth we don’t agree with, it’s common for us to feel frustrated, hurt, upset, misunderstood, and even angry. In that process, we might take the things they say when expressing themselves personally and as hurtful, rude, wrong or offensive. Then, we might react to what they’re saying instead of consciously responding. These discussions, which start as an apology or an attempt to reconcile things, often turn into an even bigger misunderstanding!
Beware the avoidance strategy!
As a result, couples can sometimes tend to avoid expressing themselves because they fear getting into another, bigger argument, or making things worse. They can often also believe that it ‘just isn’t possible or worth it’ to express themselves to their partner. This is unfortunate because communicating through these issues is required for the relationship to remain healthy, to get better, and to evolve. Additionally, avoiding communication or believing that it’s not possible can have some serious ramifications on the relationship. This avoidance strategy is not a solution. It only leads to suppression of issues and more misunderstandings accumulating over time. In turn, this often leads to escalating and more emotionally painful and seemingly complex issues. As a result, it’s really important to create the space for each other to express yourselves and to let go of the belief that it’s just ‘not possible or worth it’. It only takes one person in the relationship to take this leadership.
The first step for that person is to begin really listening to their partner on a deeper level by, first and foremost, not taking anything they say personally, even if they say something really triggering or reactive such as, “it’s all your fault, and I never want to see you again”. Remaining non-reactive and giving them the space to ‘vomit’ is a very important thing to do.
Note: many people might do this and then feel like their partner isn’t doing it for them. If you feel like you’re doing a lot of things that your partner isn’t doing, then we’ll post an article for that situation soon.
It’s important for many reasons.
One reason is that, when you begin modeling this behavior in your relationship, your partner will consciously and subconsciously begin to learn from it and catch on until they eventually begin reflecting it back to you by doing it as well! That’s relationship evolution!
Another reason why it’s important to listen without taking anything personally is that, while it might not be apparent on the surface, when someone expresses their emotions they are actually simultaneously processing those emotions – meaning they are reviewing, reflecting, reinterpreting, re-understanding, learning, clearing, and healing, their negative interpretations, perspectives, beliefs, memories, associated traumas, and the corresponding emotions, behaviors, and thoughts associated with those. So, the process of expressing oneself is actually a process of ‘processing’ and healing – and that’s a good thing! You probably want those emotions to get processed out so that they can be released and the conflict can be resolved – even if you totally disagree with what they say while processing those emotions.
When our partner is expressing how they feel and processing their emotions in this way, it’s useful to really try to hear them, find the truth in what they’re saying, and validate what they’re saying. To do this, we must go beyond the words and our instinctual reactions to those words. If we take their words at face value, react, and get angry at someone during their process of processing, then we can cut that process short and basically put a stick in the spoke of their wheels.
For example, we might interrupt them and defend ourselves, or try to correct them or point something out in the middle of their process of expressing their emotions. Just this little interruption (sometimes it’s just a facial reaction like a frown or the twitch of an eyebrow) can lead to our partner shutting down, walking away, or refusing to express themselves. When that happens the conflict tends to build, get mixed in with other conflict in the relationship, and continue on repeat until complete forgiveness, communication, processing, or some healing process takes place.
These are just a few reasons why it’s very helpful to let them fully and completely express themselves until they have nothing left to say. In other words, to let them, ‘talk themselves out’. Once they do, you might find that they feel very relieved by the end of it. As they express themselves, they are getting to think about, hear, and reflect on the emotional perspectives that were creating their fear, pain, and misunderstandings. By feeling, hearing, and reflecting on these as they express themselves, they are able to:
- Question their prior perspectives, connect new dots, and come to new understandings about what happened (even if it doesn’t look like that’s happening).
- Feel supported and accepted by you for whatever they think, say, or feel.
- Feel that, as a result of you hearing how they feel, that you will be able to understand them more deeply, forgive them, and also make any changes that they might want you to make in the relationship.
All of these points help them feel safe in the relationship again, which is key to helping them have an emotional shift, to positively change, to forgive, and to put the conflict behind you. This process can restore peace and harmony to the relationship!
Don’t just listen, really try to hear what they’re saying
As they express themselves, it’s important to really focus on being patient, tolerant, and truly hearing what they’re saying. It’s possible that they’ll say a lot of things that you disagree with or find untrue, incorrect, offensive, or insulting. When this is happening, it’s vital that you focus on really hearing what they’re trying to say and really understanding them, as opposed to taking any of it personally.
If you receive anything they say as if it’s a problem, a threat, or a perspective that is ‘not okay’ for them to have, then you have taken it personally. Once you’ve taken it personally, you’ll likely interrupt them, or worse, get angry at them while they’re expressing themselves vulnerably and emotionally. This could lead to a bigger conflict, and to them feeling judged and abandoned during a vulnerable moment. It could also lead to them shutting down, or being afraid to express themselves going forward. This could, in turn, create a communication block in the relationship. So, if you’re going to give them the space to express themselves, do your best to be ready to accept and validate whatever comes up.
Note: Accepting and validating what they say doesn’t mean agreeing that everything they say is completely true. Instead, it does mean being understanding, recognizing their perspective as okay, seeing how they could come to that perspective, and respecting their perspective as part of their emotional process. It’s also seeing their perspective as equally valid and no better or worse than anyone else’s (including your own).
The ‘trick’ to accepting whatever comes up is not taking any of it personally. If you can do that, then you can really try to hear what they’re saying behind what they’re saying.
Here are a few examples, one with a child and one with a partner.
Example 1: Let’s say a child gets upset and says, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”.
If you take those words at face value (without really trying to hear what they’re saying behind what they’re saying) then you might interpret or feel that:
- They’re being rude and disrespectful
- They’re making you seem like a bad parent
- They’re being ungrateful
- They’re behaving ‘unacceptably’
- This is embarrassing and other people watching might be judging you
As a result, you might then understandably feel upset, lose your patience, or judge and punish them in some way. That said, if you really tried to hear them (without taking any of it personally) then you might realize that what they’re really saying might be something like:
“I’m in a lot of fear and pain, I’m feeling very vulnerable, afraid, out of control, and powerless right now, I don’t know what to do or who to blame and so I’m blaming you because you’re supposed to protect me”.
That’s the deeper message behind their words. If you heard that your response would be quite different and likely more understanding, forgiving, and compassionate (you might, for example, find ways to help them calm down and realize everything is okay).
All of that said, in order to hear that (the message behind their words) we must dig through their stuff (their yelling, negative emotions, judgments, and other fearful communications, etc.) and our own stuff (our fearful interpretations, negative emotions, judgments, reactions, fears, etc.) in order to get to what they really feel behind their words.
We started with an example of a child on purpose because, ironically, when adults get upset their inner child tends to come out. This is true for everyone! When this happens, realizing that it’s just their inner child talking, and being understanding, compassionate, and really willing to hear what this inner child is saying can allow you to resolve conflict and reach ever deeper levels of understanding, vulnerability, connection, and intimacy with your partner.
Example 2: Your partner gets upset with you about you being late (or not texting them) and tells you that you’re never on time and that you don’t care about them.
If you take those words at face value, then you might:
- try to argue and point out instances where you do actually come home on time.
- feel judged, criticized, or controlled
- feel hurt that they would accuse you of not caring about them.
If you misinterpreted their statements personally in this way, you might then get defensive, upset, angry, and react by arguing or fighting back. Of course, this would likely create a bigger issue. Instead, if you didn’t take what they were saying personally, you could simply allow them to express themselves while doing your very best to hear what they’re really saying behind their words.
For example, in this situation you might see that your partner was really saying,
“I feel abandoned by you when you don’t come home on time. I’m really scared of losing you and I want to spend more time with you.”
Woahh… If you heard that, then your response might be quite different. It would likely be more compassionate, understanding, and lead to resolution of conflict.
It’s never as bad as how it sounds
It’s actually never bad at all. (#futurearticle on black and white, dualistic thinking)
What they’re really saying beneath their words is never as bad as how it seems to come out, or what we reactively, instinctively, or fearfully misinterpret. Unlike the common saying, “the truth hurts”, it’s not the truth that hurts. The truth doesn’t hurt. It’s the projections and misinterpretations generated by our fears that feels scary and therefore painful to us. The truth actually sets you free from these misinterpretations and projections. The terrible things you thought they were saying and doing are really just a reflection of their inner-child that is in fear and pain. Once you see that, all can be accepted, forgiven, understood, and healed. This truth sets you free.
Do you see the difference between unconsciously reacting to what someone says and actually consciously hearing what they’re really saying? Do you see the difference this subtle understanding will have on your life now that you see this distinction? This will positively shift how you mentally and emotionally process yourself, your relationships, and all experiences.
Most of the time, during conflict, there are two people who are emotionally triggered attempting to communicate about sensitive topics. Therefore, the outbound communications and the inbound interpretations are both being distorted by the speaker and the listener’s obscurations, fear, ignorance, projections, bias, assumptions, and more (#futurediagram). To really understand each other, we must subtract these obscurations from the process. The first step in doing that is to not take any of it personally. If we take it personally, then we may get biased, upset, or angry about what they said and then we won’t be able to really hear what they’re saying (because our fear and negative emotion will obscure our quality of consciousness and capacity to accurately understand).
Once they have completely finished expressing how they feel, validate it, and offer to work on changing in some way to help them.
No matter what they say, there will be SOMETHING in there that you can validate. We understand that loved ones can sound pretty ‘crazy’ sometimes during conflict. That said, if you really try to hear what they’re saying behind the words they use and the seemingly scary or hurtful things they say, then you will be able to find something you can validate. The more you validate, the better. Truly, everyone’s experiences are valid. They may not be ‘the truth’, that said, that doesn’t mean it’s invalid. Everyone deserves to feel, think, believe, and experience whatever they want and need to experience in order to heal.
By validating their side of the story, we hold the space for them to heal.
If you validate what they’ve said, then they will feel heard – they will feel that you understand and accept them for however they feel and whatever they’ve said or done. If they feel accepted, heard and understood, then they will feel safe and supported in the relationship again. Often times, it’s not until they feel safe and supported that they are able to introspect, learn, and change. Do you see how important it is to hold this space for each other?
Additionally, if you offer to make an adjustment or personally change in some way to help them with whatever they are going through, then they will feel even more safe and supported. If that happens, then there will be space for you two to work together as a team and they will feel more able and willing to grow and change with you.
In order to successfully validate how they feel, repeat what they said back to them (so they can be sure you heard them and understood) and then validate it.
For example, you could say, “I understand that you feel [repeat what they said].
Then validate it by saying something to the effect of:
- “I can see why you would feel that way.”
- “I hear what you’re saying, and I understand.”
- “I get that.”
- “There’s validity to what you’re saying.”
- “I understand why you would feel that way”.
If you really mean it, any of these statement will help them tremendously (if you have a hard time really meaning it, we will write a #futurearticle on that).
For example, let’s say your partner said to you:
“I’m doing all of the work in the relationship, and you’re not even trying!”
If you took that personally and didn’t really hear what they were saying, then you might feel overlooked, unrecognized, not valued, unseen, invalidated, and would likely feel disappointed, upset, hurt, threatened or disturbed by their perspective in some way. You might argue back and say:
“That’s not true, YOU’RE the one who isn’t trying!”
“Are you kidding me, I’ve been doing THIS, and THIS, and THIS. Meanwhile, you haven’t done ANYTHING. How dare you say that!”
This would be taking it personally. Instead, if you really try to hear what they are saying and don’t take it personally, you might hear that:
They feel overwhelmed in some way in some part of their lives, and that they’re looking for your help (You might even recognize that their inner-child is speaking).
Now, if you heard that, then you could validate the way that they feel and offer to work on changing in some way in order to help them.
For example, you might say:
“I understand how you could feel that way… I’m really sorry that you feel that way. I really do care and I really do want to help. Whatever I have or haven’t done that has upset you, I promise it hasn’t been on purpose. I’m committed to you, to helping you, and to having a great relationship. What can I do differently to help you more with this? I really want to help you more.”
By saying the above, you’re helping them see that:
- you really did hear them
- you validate, accept and understand them and what they’re saying
- you’re their teammate, you support them, and you want to help
- you’re willing to change to help them
Can you imagine how different relationships would be if we held this space of consciousness for others more often?
Managing conflict in this way allows you to grow with your partner. It allows the relationship to become a catalyst or vehicle for your personal evolution and growth. It also allows the relationship to become a resource for learning, intimacy, vulnerability, and deep personal and spiritual connection. Managing your relationships in this way can allow your relationships to become deeply meaningful and fulfilling. It can also help those you’re in relationships with to positively transform. Taking these steps empowers you to ultimately shift your relationship to conflict (#futurearticle). When that happens, you no longer see conflict as a bad thing or a threat to you or the relationship, and you begin to see it as a positive stepping stone for growth and evolution for you, your partner, and the relationship.
Help them see that what they fear (and therefore feel) is not real or true by lovingly telling them why you did what you did in constructive terms that will help them feel safe in life and the relationship again (optional)
If you’ve taken the above steps, then this step may not be necessary. That said, if the person you’re apologizing to is still upset, you can add this step. This step is helpful because it allows you to help the other person understand why you did what you did in a constructive way that helps them release their fears.
Whenever people feel hurt by someone else, they tend to have difficulty understanding why the person did what they did. Because they’re hurt, they’re often stuck projecting ‘that which they fear’ onto what happened instead of actually seeing what really happened. Their fear is always more scary than reality. Helping them understand why you did what you did helps them let go of their scary fear and accept the far more acceptable reality. Once they see and understand, their fear and pain will dissolve.
In order for this to happen, the person apologizing must truly understand why they did what they did from a very humble, unbiased, self-aware, and conscious vantage point and then be able to communicate it. If this step isn’t taken very carefully, then it can do more harm than good (for example, if it’s done with pride or with fear of being vulnerable). That’s why this is an optional and advanced step only.
When someone feels hurt or victimized by someone else, they are often projecting a whole bunch of personal pain, fear, and projections onto what the other person did and why they did it. For example, a person waiting for their partner to come home late at night might project that their partner is cheating on them, doesn’t care about them, or is trying to avoid them. When the person at home realizes that their partner simply got a flat tire and forgot their phone at work, then all the fear and anger that they were feeling goes away. Simultaneously, they get the opportunity to realize they were in fear and release that fear. This leads to more trust and growth in the relationship. If the person that got home late became angry at their partner for projecting that they were having an affair, then the growth and healing experience wouldn’t be able to happen. Whenever we get angry or judge someone else, we interrupt their healing process (#futurearticle).
In the example above, the partner was doing something very ‘innocent’ – they had a flat tire. Now, let’s consider an example where the partner was doing something seemingly ‘less innocent’ (by the way, we would recommend working towards seeing the innocence in every action and every person – #futurearticle). For example, let’s say that instead of having a flat tire, they were actually trying to avoid coming home to their partner. In such a situation, the person at home (upon discovering that their partner was trying to avoid them) might interpret that:
- their partner doesn’t want to work through things
- their partner doesn’t want to be around them
- the relationship is failing
Upon making such interpretations, the person at home might feel very emotionally hurt, abandoned, and afraid about the relationship failing. This is enough to cause a lot of stress and negative emotions. In addition to this, however, another layer of stress tends to happen in most people. After making fearful interpretations about what happened, we tend to then start making fearful projections about what will happen in the future as well. For example, as a result of the fearful interpretation that the relationship is failing, we might then project the following.
Fearful projections onto the future
- “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to sell the house”
- “The kids are going to be so damaged”
- “I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life”
Side note: This is how fear works. It has this snowball effect where one fear can lead to another and another and another. Understanding this can help you be more precisely aware of yourself and others while you or they are stressed, worried, angry, upset, frustrated, or in any negative emotion – all of which stem from fear. When you can identify the fearful interpretations and projections that are causing the negative emotions that your loved one feels, then you’ll know what to say to help them no longer be afraid of whatever they’re afraid of.
The person waiting for their partner to come home might get feel stress, anger, upset, and panic while projecting those fears listed above onto their future. Do you see why people tend to have such strong emotional reactions to things sometimes? Do you see how valid it is for them to feel the way they feel when they are living in the illusion of such fears?
In an apology, we have an opportunity to help our partner understand that the scary things that they’re interpreting, projecting, and fearing aren’t actually happening. This allows them to feel better again.
In the situation above, we could help our partner recognize that their fearful interpretations and projections aren’t true. Here’s what we could say to do this:
Things to say to address their fearful interpretations:
- We DO want to work through things (addressing fearful interpretation 1 above)
- We DO want to be around them (addressing fearful interpretation 2 above)
- The relationship WILL work out wonderfully and we are committed (addressing fearful interpretation 3 above)
Things to say to address their fearful projections:
- They won’t have to sell the house (addressing fearful projection 1 above)
- The kids won’t be damaged (addressing fearful projection 2 above)
- They won’t be alone for the rest of their lives (addressing fearful projection 3 above)
In order to do this, we must first understand what it is that they’re interpreting, fearing, and projecting. That’s why we ask them to express themselves first in the steps above!
For example, if after asking our partner how they felt we learned that they were interpreting us staying out late as us:
- not wanting to work through things
- not wanting to be around them
- the relationship failing
Then, we could say:
“Yes, I did stay out later (validating). That said, it’s not because I don’t want to work through things or didn’t want to be around you (addressing their fears). I DO want to work through things and I DO want to be around you (even more directly addressing their fears while showing commitment and positive intention). The real reason I was staying out late is because I was afraid of coming home and us getting into another argument (offering a humble, vulnerable description of why they did what they did). In the future, I will come home so we can work on these things together instead of getting frozen in my fear of getting into an argument (showing intention to constructively change in order to more optimally support each other and the relationship).”
This explanation of what happened is excellent because it is humble, truthful, and doesn’t contain judgment or blame. For example, it doesn’t blame or punish by saying, “I didn’t want to come home because I knew YOU would be here and YOU always yell at me” (such a statement would lead to an even bigger problem). Instead, it takes 100% accountability by acknowledging that it was their own fear and ignorance, and only their own fear and ignorance, that fueled their actions. It also helps the person who is upset realize that it had nothing to do with them and therefore not take it personally.
Whenever anyone gets upset, it’s ultimately because they’re taking something personally. If we don’t take things personally, then we don’t feel negative emotions. In the example above, the person at home was taking it personally by projecting that their partner didn’t want to work through things with them and didn’t want to be around them. After hearing and understanding the real reason their partner didn’t come home, they can stop taking it personally. They realized that it wasn’t because of them that their partner was avoiding coming home, it was actually because of their partner’s fear about what might happen and innocent ignorance about how to handle the situation – in truth, this has nothing to do with them personally.
Once this understanding occurs, the person can forgive because the fears they were projecting onto why their partner wasn’t coming home can dissolve. They can realize that their fears weren’t true and they can accept and forgive their partner for being afraid and not knowing any better. The truth is always more gentle and loving than that which we fear. If the truth looks scary, then you can be sure there’s fear in the mix. If you choose to, in those times you can become aware of your fear, breath, relax, smile, and start to release your fear and introspect until you find a more conscious understanding of reality. The choices you’ll make with a more conscious understanding of reality will likely have far better outcomes than those you’ll make with a fear driven interpretation.
Because the person coming home late humbly reflected on why they avoided coming home, and then communicated that in a careful, vulnerable, and humble manner (without being upset at their partner for being upset with them), they were able to facilitate a healing process in their relationship that otherwise could have escalated into bigger conflict. As a result of this, now they might realize that it could be good to get help working through issues or to at least be more open with each other and work through issues together. Just this “small” step can have huge positive ripple effects across the rest of their lives. Every day we have opportunities to take steps like this and improve our lives. Even if it’s just an extra “I love you” throughout the day.
“I’m glad this came up so we could work through it together, evolve, and be closer now than ever before”
This is the cherry on top. Not a GMO modified, soaked-in-corn-syrup cherry though. A really vibrant, healthy, organic cherry that is great for your life-long health.
If you can reflect on the misunderstanding and say:
“I’m glad this came up. I was able to realize some very helpful things. As a result, I feel our relationship will get better and better. I see your good intentions beneath all this. I feel that we’re both gaining a lot from working through this. I’m so grateful to be growing, healing, learning, and evolving alongside you. I see that, without the misunderstanding we had, we wouldn’t have been able to learn all of this about ourselves, bring some of our fears to light, and be as close as we are now. It feels so good to work through things with you and to be your teammate. Thank you. I love you”.
Connecting these dots helps you and your partner begin to shift your relationship to the conflict and give both of you a greater perspective from which to operate (#futurearticle). This positive, wise, big picture perspective can set the tone for consciously, lovingly, and intentionally managing conflict or misunderstandings in the future. This mountain top perspective can positively influence how each of you interact during times of conflict. Over time, this can lead to you transcending conflict altogether. How meaningful is that?
We’ve offered a lot of perspectives in this article. Putting these perspective into practice and literally practicing these perspectives will allow you to experience wonderful and awe-inspiring things in yourself, your relationships, and your life. You deserve this. Please leave any questions or comments below. We appreciate you, send you love, and wish you the brightest and best in all areas of your life.